Why 13.9 is the number Wizards fans should remember for NBA Draft lottery

·4 min read

Why 13.9 is the magic number for Wizards in NBA Draft lottery originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

On Tuesday night, roughly half of the NBA's 30 teams will wait anxiously to find out where they fall in the 2022 NBA Draft lottery, the majority of them with varying degees of hope to land the first overall pick. For the Wizards, who have the 10th-best odds, it's just 3%.

But how often does the No. 1 pick in an NBA Draft end up actually being the best player in that draft class? Not all that often, if you think about it.

Set the two most recent drafts aside, as it's too early to tell with either of them, and go back a few years. If the 2019 draft was redone, Ja Morant (taken No. 2) would probably be the pick over Zion Williamson based on health alone. Luka Doncic (picked third) or Trae Young (picked fifth) would have been drafted first in 2018, not Deandre Ayton. In 2017, you would go with Jayson Tatum (picked third) over Markelle Fultz.

You can keep on going back finding examples if you want. Even the Wizards, who hit a home run selecting John Wall first overall in 2010, saw Paul George (picked 10th) go on to have the better career. They also had the first overall pick in 2001 and, yeah, it offered no guarantees.

ESPN's draft experts went through the drafts year-by-year to determine how often the best player was picked first. The list was done in 2018, so it's a bit outdated, but in their estimation the best player was taken only four times in the previous 20 drafts.

And that list included Ben Simmons as a definitively better pick than Jaylen Brown and Brandon Ingram in 2016 and Anthony Davis as the choice over Damian Lillard in 2012. With a few more years of hindsight, those claims are more debatable now.

It's just not that often a No. 1 pick is a slam dunk generational player like LeBron James or Shaquille O'Neal. Even with all the time and effort front offices put into finding the next stars, the draft is widely unpredictable.

That could especially be the case in this year's draft which does not have an obvious No. 1 pick as the lottery is approaching and appears to have a fairly deep first tier of prospects. There doesn't seem to be a lot separating Jabari Smith Jr. (Auburn), the current odds-on favorite, from Chet Holmgren (Gonzaga), Paolo Banchero (Duke) and Jaden Ivey (Purdue). And you could even argue for others like Shaedon Sharpe (Kentucky) or A.J. Griffin (Duke) to be a part of that mix.

That dynamic further illustrates why the Wizards' 13.9% chance of selecting in the top-4 is the number for every Washington fan to remember heading into Tuesday. Even if they got the fourth overall pick, it would essentially mean they won the lottery because they would get one of those top players.

Sometimes there's a steep drop-off from the top tier, making a major difference between two picks, like in 2019 when Williamson, Morant and R.J. Barrett were all available. Teams were hoping to get into the top-3. This year, getting the No. 1 pick would of course be preferable but there may only be a nominal difference between picking second, third or fourth.

That said, there would likely be a huge difference between picking in the top-4 and where the Wizards are most likely to select which is either 10th or 11th. While they have 13.9% odds of picking top-4, they have an 84.9% chance of picking 10th or 11th with 10th holding the highest likelihood by far at 65.9%.

If the Wizards end up picking 10th or later, there is still going to be plenty of talent remaining on the board, if recent drafts and NBA history are any indication. But picking top-4 would yield a higher likelihood of stardom and that they would contribute right away.

For the Wizards, you could argue the sweet spot would be picking third or fourth. In that range, they could justify taking Ivey, who would fill a positional need at guard. Washington only has one guard signed to a fully guaranteed contract next season and it's Bradley Beal, who has a player option.

Picking at the top of the draft should always be about best player available rather than short-term needs, but the Wizards could accomplish both by selecting Ivey. The rest of the top-4 happens to be power forwards, which is probably the Wizards' deepest position at the moment.

Given the significant odds of the Wizards selecting 10th or 11th, those are by far the most realistic scenarios entering Tuesday's lottery. But if there's one number for Wizards fans to attach some hope to, it's 13.9.